In October, members of the BPS voted for the society to focus our 2020 policy work on a campaign to take us “From Poverty to Flourishing”.
And then everything changed.
Within two weeks a general election had been called and within two months the Conservative party were enjoying their biggest electoral success since 1987.
Delivering his victory speech, Prime Minster Boris Johnson set out his two biggest priorities: to “get Brexit done” and to focus on the NHS.
In the 100 days since that election, much has changed and even more so in the last few weeks.
The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously demanded a shift in approach as evidenced by the recent budget, which set out a spending plan few could have imagined coming from a Conservative chancellor.
But what progress has been made to tackle poverty, and how has our campaign progressed?
Poverty was not a priority for the Johnson government ahead of December’s election, with the word appearing only three times in the Conservatives' 59-page manifesto.
However, the manifesto did touch on issues linked to poverty, including commitments on improvements to schools and social care, support for working families, and changes to the benefit and taxation system.
Since then some progress has been made. At the start of the year the government announced £165m in funding for the ‘Troubled Families’ program, which provides intensive early interventions for some of the most vulnerable families.
More recently, this month's budget saw £2.5m being made available for “research and developing best practice around the integration of services for families”, including the Family Hubs program, which brings together different services for families to access.
These announcements are commendable, however there is seemingly little desire for an overarching, national poverty strategy in England. This is something that the BPS, through our “From Poverty to Flourishing” campaign, and working with other partners, seeks to change.
To get our own campaign going, we put out a call for members for the Poverty to Flourishing Expert Reference Group in November.
A short-list of candidates was put together from an incredibly strong group of responses, and in February we brought together a group of psychologists with a diverse range of expertise and experience to help us shape our policy and campaign calls.
Our task in the first ERG meeting was to situate the BPS campaign within the current policy landscape and explore opportunities to influence this government.
Of particular relevance is the ‘levelling up’ agenda, which featured heavily in the budget.
Johnson seems keen to redress the balance between London and the South East and other regions of the United Kingdom, where the Conservatives new supporter base is located.
Whilst this is couched firmly in economic and infrastructural terms – greater investment for roads, housing, flood defences and mobile coverage to name a few – it is essential that the government recognise that people, not just economic regions, need help to level up too.
When it comes to an overarching strategy to tackle poverty, there is no need to re-invent the wheel, but rather to understand the evidence base and pay attention to what works.
There are existing initiatives across the four nations of the United Kingdom, including (but not limited to):
The Northern Ireland Executive also promised a new anti-poverty strategy as part of its “New Decade, New Approach” deal announced in January, and it is hoped progress can be made on this front after years of political stalemate.
Promising examples can be found at the local level too.
Both the ‘Wigan Deal’, and ‘Marmot Cities’ such as Coventry, take an integrated approach to health and well-being, recognising the sad reality of the link between poverty and health, with measures that draw on the strengths and resources of local communities to accompany local services for the benefit of whole communities, not just service users.
Whilst many things are uncertain, it is clear that the COVID-19 outbreak necessitates a change in the government's approach to helping those most vulnerable and exposed to sudden economic shocks.
The need for an overarching approach to help support those most in need has never been starker.
We hope that with the proper psychological expertise, evidence and support, a strategy can be formulated that not just catches people when they fall, but also helps to lift them up.